A new breast cancer study has good news, but not everyone can celebrate equally.

Image by Tyler Hoehne.

For years, breast cancer patients, survivors, and their families have wondered if decades of walks, ribbons, fundraising, awareness, and dedicated activism were making a difference.

On Tuesday, a new batch of results came in.


A statistical analysis published by the American Cancer Society found that mortality rates from breast cancer fell 39% between 1989 and 2015.

The decrease amounts to 322,600 saved lives in 26 years, according to the paper's authors. Researchers attribute the drop to increased early detection and more effective treatment options.

The percentage of women over 40 who have had a mammogram in the prior two years grew from 29% in 1987 to 64% in 2015. Meanwhile, options for combatting the disease have increased, thanks to the advent of new drugs and therapies.

Hundreds of thousands of fewer people dying is good news.

The bad news is that black women continue to die from the disease at higher rates than any other demographic.

While a lower percentage of black women are dying from the disease overall, their fatality rates are still nearly 40% higher than those of white women, a rate that has remained maddeningly persistent for decades.

Photo by USAG, Humphreys/Flickr.

"The reason for the black and white difference is primarily related to economic status and lack of insurance on part of black women," Harold Freeman, former director of the American Cancer Society, told NPR in a 2014 interview.  "But also, we have a health care system that doesn't treat everyone equally." He cites a lack of ability to pay for preventive care and subconscious assumptions that lead some medical professionals to ignore black women's concerns as contributing factors.

The study also found that the racial mortality gap varied heavily by region. Disparities were worst in eight mostly southern states: Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Virginia, Indiana, and Michigan.

Eliminating the racial disparity when it comes to breast cancer diagnoses will require more than ribbons and walks to solve — and organizations are already rising to the challenge.

Groups like Breast Cancer Action have made racial justice a core plank, citing the need to address the disparities in education, housing, and economic power that exacerbate the mortality gap at its root.

As a stopgap, programs like the CDC's National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program help provide early detection screenings to low-income and uninsured people.

While some states indeed showed large, persistent racial disparities in mortality rates, according to the study, the gap was nearly nonexistent in several others. Three states — California, Massachusetts, and Delaware — made significant, verifiable progress in making outcomes more equal over the 26-year span.

"This means that there is light at the end of the tunnel," Carol DeSantis, lead author of the study, told The Washington Post. "Some states are showing that they can close the gap."

For the 252,710 people expected to be diagnosed with breast cancer this year — and hundreds of thousands more in the years to come — the progress in treating the disease is a welcome sign.

The work to make sure they all have an equal shot at a full recovery remains.

Heroes

Image by Brent Connelly from Pixabay and sixthformpoet / Twitter

Twitter user Matt, who goes by the name @SixthFormPoet, shared a dark love story on Twitter that's been read by nearly 600,000 people. It starts in a graveyard and feels like it could be the premise for a Tim Burton film.

While it's hard to verify whether the story is true, Matt insists that it's real, so we'll believe him.

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Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Approximately 10% of the population is left-handed, and the balance between lefties and righties has been the same for almost 5,000 years. People used to believe that left-handed people were evil or unlucky. The word "sinister" is even derived from the Latin word for "left."

In modern times, the bias against lefties for being different is more benign – spiral notebooks are a torture device, and ink gets on their hands like a scarlet letter. Now, a new study conducted at the University of Oxford and published in Brain is giving left-handers some good news. While left-handers have been struggling with tools meant for right-handers all these years, it turns out, they actually possess superior verbal skills.

Researchers looked at the DNA of 400,000 people in the U.K. from a volunteer bank. Of those 400,000 people, 38,332 were southpaws. Scientists were able to find the differences in genes between lefties and righties, and that these genetic variants resulted in a difference in brain structure, too. "It tells us for the first time that handedness has a genetic component," Gwenaëlle Douaud, joint senior author of the study and a fellow at Oxford's Wellcome Centre for Integrative Neuroimaging, told the BBC.

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Pete the Plant is a maidenhair fern living in the Rainforest Life exhibit at the London Zoo, but Pete the Plant isn't like other plants. Pete the Plant is also a budding photographer. Scientists in the Zoological Society of London's (ZSL) conservation tech unit has been teaching the plant how to take selfies.

The ZSL held a competition in partnership with Open Plant, Cambridge University, and the Arribada Initiative for the design of a fuel cell powered by plants. Plant E in the Netherlands produced the winning design. The prototype cell creates electricity from the waste from the plant's roots. The electricity will be used to charge a battery that's attached to a camera. Once Pete the Plant grows strong enough, it will then use the camera to take a selfie. Not too bad for a plant.

"As plants grow, they naturally deposit biomatter into the soil they're planted in, which bacteria in the soil feeds on – this creates energy that can be harnessed by fuel cells and used to power a wide range of conservation tools," Al Davies, ZSL's conservation technology specialist, explains.

RELATED: This plant might be the answer to water pollution we've been searching for

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